Cupping therapy, what is it?

March 19, 2023 BY

Cupping is used to relieve muscle tension and increase blood circulation, which promotes healing. Photo: KATHERINE HANLON

YOU may have seen pictures of red circles, and a relaxing massage, but what is cupping therapy and who is it for?

Cupping uses vacuum cups placed on the skin, creating suction in order to stretch skin, tissue and tight muscles upward.

Geelong-based myotherapist and remedial masseuse Anthony Johns said unlike other forms of massage, cupping uses suction to lift muscles and increase circulation, rather than compressing the muscles.

“Cupping is usually done as a form of suction with a glass cup, usually used with a hand-bumped vacuum or a flame to burn out the oxygen to create that vacuum which adds suction, which is applied to the body, directly onto the skin in order to lift the muscles up rather than compress them in, which is what most massage techniques involve,” he said.

“Due to the increased pressure, that will encourage blood flow to the area.”

The numerous health benefits of this suction include relieving muscle tension and increasing blood circulation, which stimulates healing.

Johns said therapists control the lift by how strong they make vacuum.

Historically, cups could be made from animal horn, bamboo, or ceramics, but modern cups are now often made using glass, plastic, rubber, and silicon.

Regardless of the material, cups use various methods — fire, hand pump or compression — to remove the air from the cups to create the required vacuum.

A popular modern technique is fixed or static cupping, a suction-only method where cups are placed on a selected area and left.

Siding, or moving cupping, involved oil or cream on skin and vacuum cups are slid over.

“Cupping is just another massage technique, so most massage techniques used compression to create pressure but because [cupping] creates a lift instead of a push it has a benefit of being able to work muscles in a different way.

“It has a prolonged affect, and because you’re moving fluid around the body in a very controlled manner it can have a very targeted and controlled effect.”

While cupping is not painful, it can leave temporary reddish-purple circles that can last for a few days.

“It’s not really a bruise, it’s just increased circulation of blood in that area,” Johns said.

“For the entire duration of that marking being present the treatment is having an effect on the blood flow in that area.”

The practise was historically a treatment used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), where it is said to increase the flow of “qi” in the body, a Chinese word meaning life force.

“It does have a history with Chinese medicine, but it’s not exclusive, there are many cultures that have used cupping through,” Johns said.

“In myotherapy, I target my cupping to my specific needs of my client… it’s not a flat rule that everyone should get it. Some people respond really well and other people find it makes them feel heavy.

“It’s better to ask, ‘would I benefit from cupping?’.”

Anyone with high or low blood pressure or thin skin should seek medical advice before undergoing cupping.